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Lives in Transition

County group takes its services state-wide thanks to a grant marking its excellence

A Clackamas group will be taking the services it offers state-wide, thanks to a national grant that recognizes the success they've had helping veterans find jobs - and helping employers find eager vets as employees.

Community Solutions for Clackamas County has been offering special services for vets in the county. They will use the $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor's Veterans' Workforce Investment Program to help veterans - especially returning combat veterans - with employment issues throughout the state.

'We are part of Clackamas County,' said Maureen Thompson, who worked on the grant project at the agency. 'We're a division within the county Human Services Department, and we are primarily the workforce arm of the county, that helps people who have multiple barriers to employment to get jobs.'

That includes people who have been in prison, have mental health issues or are on public assistance; Thompson runs other programs as well, providing weatherization assistance for low-income seniors and offering mediation services.

She said they responded to a request for proposals this summer, and were told they had been awarded the grant June 22.

'We felt we could take what we did in Clackamas - and take it state-wide.'

National recognition

The award to the county was one of 91 grants announced recently, totaling $26 million. 'We were the only state-wide award,' Thompson said, 'and the only award on the West Coast - so we're pretty excited.'

The group has already had one grant to provide its services county-wide, and Thompson said they've been developing expertise in the field.

'We partnered with Oregon City's employment department on the previous grant,' she said. 'It worked so well to get vets back to work.

The grant will focus on transitioning combat veterans - some of whom come home wounded or disabled - to get back to work.

'The grant isn't about whether you think the war is right or not, it's about taking care of the people coming home.'

The services will be provided through the state's 'One-stop Career Centers' - one is located in Oregon City at 506 High Street.

'It's a library concept,' Thompson said. 'You can come in and access labor information, get your résumé updated, attend free workshops on how to interview and get job training.

'We need to maximize the money we have,' she said, 'to triage the folks that are coming back. We've got the resources - we need to do a better job of coordinating.'

Thompson said with the program Oregon will be blazing new trails in the way job training services are presented.

'When someone walks into one of the one-stop centers they will be immediately asked f they are a vet,' Thompson said - and if so they will be referred to a special veterans' representative, often a vet themselves.

'Because they're also a vet, they'll be able to relate to a lot of their issues. If the vet hasn't signed up[ for veterans benefits, they'll know where to refer them.'

When a vet goes in for veterans services 'the veterans' representative will immediately contact the 'one-stop' - they have the case management and a lot of the training money.'

They'll make sure any vets coming in for services are being served by programs like the federal Workforce Investment Act. The veterans' representative and the employment counselors will work together - 'in many cases they can kind of co-case manage the individual,' she said. That means that starting with the request for job help they can meet a lot of other needs: 'The vet may need interview clothes - or a haircut - or eyeglasses,' she said. 'The grant has money to pay for these things.'

They can even buy things that may be required by an employer - like steel-toed work boots.

Thompson said unemployment is running at 5.5 percent in Oregon, compared to 4.7 percent nation-wide.

'Oregon has continued to lag behind,' she said. 'A lot of the National Guard people were job-searching when the unemployment rate was high… so they got into the National Guard, and they were called up for three, four tours of duty. When they got back, they expected the economy to rebound, and it hasn't… it's at the same place as when they went in, they still can't get a job.'